Letterpress Fun!

Finally, finally, I’m getting around to posting this update…! Hopefully you’ll find the details of the letterpress process as fascinating as I did.

So last Thursday, I met up with my mother, and we headed to Pyramid Atlantic in Silver Spring for a letterpress lesson. Getting there was a bit of a challenge (thank you, random car that decided to break down in the middle of the exit ramp), but luckily Moira was totally understanding, and hung around.

via Pyramid Atlantic

Moira showed us around the printshop, which was very cool (I was so entranced that I forgot to take a photo…) — they have two Vandercook presses, which is what I learned on, and a Chandler & Price “clamshell” press as well.

Once we had the lay of the land, Moira started us on the “doing” part of the lesson. Below is a photo of the example she showed us — you can see the type in the tray, and the finished product in the bottom right corner — along with the composing stick you use to lay out your type.


I decided to go with the Rumi quote…well, at least I tried to. Apparently my memory is going in my old age, and I left the scrap of paper I’d written it on in my office, so…I ended up printing a modified version! Yeah. Oh well, it was a practice run anyway.

The type for printing is stored in a tray called a California job case (which are REALLY heavy with all that metal!), which is not laid out in alphabetical order, but based on how commonly used the letter is, as I understood it.


Type is laid out upside down and backwards on the composing stick, which takes a little getting used to:


Once I had my type set, we were ready to move to printing!


I got to mix my own ink (a lovely shade of gray, of course), and then Moira showed me how to apply it to the rollers.

Here’s the press all ready to go:


As you probably know, one of the many reasons letterpress is so expensive is that you have to hand-print each sheet:


After a sheet is printed, the ink on the has to dry for a while. They have drying racks for large projects, but since I just did a few cards, I set them out on the table to dry:

I couldn’t get the lighting right in the printshop to get a good photo of the finished product, unfortunately.

The whole letterpress process was SO MUCH FUN!! I thought Suann hit the nail on the head in her post on how she got into letterpress. I didn’t know if I was going to think the whole process was way too complicated, or if I was going to be totally in love with the technique. Worst case scenario, I figured I would put up with the hassle long enough to get pretty wedding invites, and then walk away if I didn’t like it. However, as I told my mother that night, I think I’ve found my new obsession.

There’s something so…I don’t know, organic, maybe, about the whole process. Digital printing is kind of…sterile. You’re very removed from the process — you just put the paper in the tray, hit a button, and ta da! A print. But with letterpress, it felt like I was very involved in the whole process. It felt like I was actually creating something great! So cool.

Ok, I’ll stop gushing about letterpress now, and end this tragically long post. Seriously, though — if you ever get a chance to learn letterpress, do it! More to come soon…I have time scheduled on March 26th to go back and print the invites!!

Published in: on March 10, 2009 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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